Valle dei Monaci

From the centre of Milan to the Via Francigena, crossing the Po: a 65-km long route through an area that is both agricultural and urban, where medieval frescoes, works of monastic and peasant architecture, archaeological finds and sustainable technologies can be found. Four protected areas meet in this land between city and countryside: the South Milan Agricultural Park, the Vettabbia Park, the WWF Oasis of Montorfano and the San Colombamo Park.

Here we'd like to propose you the stops that, in our opinion, cannot be missed and of which we have verified accessibility. They are all part of the first stretch of the route, that corresponds to the Valle della Vettabbia, from the name of the canal that starts in the centre of Milan and then run south until it gets into the Lambro river, in Melegnano. A territory also known as Valle dei Monaci because the Cistercian monks settled here in the Middle Ages and, by reclaiming those unhealthy lands, those lands became productive and, as a consequence many small villages were born, enlivened by the presence of the abbeys of Chiaravalle, Viboldone, Mirasole.

San Lorenzo Maggiore, in Milan
Fascinating for its impressive architecture and rich in works of art, along with the columns of San Lorenzo, which once marked the entrance to the portico of the building, the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore is considered one of the largest monumental complexes of the Roman era of the city.

The basilica was built between the fourth and the fifth centuries and remodelled several times since then, until it assumed its current appearance. The mosaics of the "Cappella di S. Aquilino " are very beautiful (free entrance for persons with disabilities) and very impressive are the crypt and the foundation located inside the chapel (to reach them it is necessary to go down a staircase).
On-site, you can find a paper guide, with all the information on the history of the church, and an information panel also in Braille. The content is also available in audio and video format from your smartphone.
For more information, please visit the website of the Basilica
Here you can find information on the accessibility of the church.

From San Lorenzo Maggiore, the route continues to the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio (here information on accessibility) with the Diocesan Museum (here information on accessibility) San Nazaro in Brolo (here information on accessibility) and, walking along Corso Porta Romana and Corso Lodi you reach the southern outskirts of the city. At the end of viale Omero, starts via San Dionigi, where you can find a small church clearly visible from the road and accessible thanks to a slightly uphill path, marking the border with the countryside. This is the church of ss. Filippo and Giacomo, and it is part of the Centro Nocetum: built during the XIII century, it preserves evidence of the existence of a Christian community in Nocetum since ancient times, as demonstrated by some findings brought to light by recent excavations and a marble funeral inscription of 536 AD.

In front of Nocetum is located Cascina Nosedo, a centre of aggregation and social animation activities, behind which it is possible to access the Parco della Vettabbia and from here you can reach the Chiaravalle abbey on foot or by bike. By car, you can drive along via San Dionigi and follow the signs to Chiaravalle.

The Chiaravalle Abbey, Milan
Now entrusted to the Congregation of St. Bernard of the Cistercian Order, the Abbey was founded starting from 1135 thanks to the will of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the support of the Milanese people. Of great importance are: "La Madonna della buonanotte", a work by Bernardino Luini, the seventeenth-century frescoes, the wooden choir also from the seventeenth century and the fourteenth-century tower, called "Ciribiciaccola", decorated with Giotto's frescoes.  Immediately after entering the abbey, on the left is the chapel of S. Bernardo, called "delle donne" (women's chapel) because, according to the Cistercian rule, women could not normally have access to the church so they decided to give them that chapel. Built in 1412, used as a pharmacy in the mid-1700s, it preserves the original fresco decoration.
The guesthouse offers hospitality to those who request it and during their stay guests can live the rhythms of the community.

In 2009, the ancient mill of Chiaravalle was reopened to the public; it is adjacent to the abbey, with its typically medieval structure, spread over two floors and, outside, there is a garden of aromatic plants. 
Guided tours and workshops for children are organized in the mill.
To book a visit, please contact: tel. 02 42292265; e- mail: info@koinecoopsociale.it

The industriousness of the monks of Chiaravalle shows itself even today in the production of honey, jams, sauces and salts and in the direct management of the cattle present in their farmhouse. These products can be purchased at the Bottega dei Monaci. From 2017 then, the monks also opened a refreshment point, a resting place in the courtyard of the Abbey, for a quiet break where you can try biscuits, beers and jams produced by the monks and have a coffee.
Here you can find all information on the accessibility of the Abbey and the Mill.
At this link you can find a recent video presentation of the Abbey.

Mirasole Abbey, Opera
Built as a farmhouse-abbey in the first half of 1200, the Mirasole Abbey was run by the order of the Umiliati, dedicated to the cultivation of fields and the fabrication of woollen fabrics and cloths, until 1569, when  archbishop Carlo Borromeo suppressed the order and donated the monastic complex to the Helvetic College.  In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte donated it to the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan, as a reward for the care given to his soldiers.

Only in October 2013, after 5 centuries, the Abbey returned to being once again inhabited by religious: the Premonstratensian canons settled here and started the rebirth of the abbey. After only two years, however, they had to give up and leave the Abbey, due to the small number of monks. Since 2016, Progetto Mirasole and Progetto Arca have implemented in the complex of the abbey a service for mothers with children in a state of fragility and for persons or small groups in temporary housing difficulties, as well as training and job placement projects for disadvantaged people. Moreover, a small group of priests allows the carrying out of religious celebrations and the promotion of moments of spiritual life.

Educational activities and workshops for people with disabilities, concerts and cultural initiatives are organized in the Abbey.
The complex, of great beauty, looks like a traditional Lombard farmhouse with a courtyard, with the east entrance characterized by a tower. The residential and service buildings, as well as the fifteenth-century church dedicated to S. Maria Assunta, overlook the courtyard. The church has a single nave, with a wooden coffered ceiling and an apse frescoed in the second half of the fifteenth century. The frescoes depict the Assumption of the Virgin and the Holy Trinity about to crown the Virgin. A small internal cloister, now restored, used to serve the monastic life of the complex. Around the cloister there are: the refectory, the meeting room, the chapter house, the prior's hall. Today they are mostly used for events and temporary exhibitions. On a capital of the cloister is visible the emblem of Mirasole.
In the chapter house there is the permanent exhibition on the history of Mirasole, with panels illustrating the history of the abbey from its origins to the present days and sacred objects including the relics of San Carlo Borromeo, Sant'Ambrogio, Santa Lucia and Sant'Antonio Abate.
Information panels are located in the church, in the cloister and in the exhibition rooms. Audio guides are available in Italian, English, Spanish, French, German and Russian.
For groups, guided tours and educational tours, reservations are required:
tel. +39 329 6708458 email: visiteguidate@abbaziamirasole.org.

Here you can find information on the accessibility of the Mirasole Abbey.

Viboldone Abbey, San Giuliano Milanese
Founded by the Humiliated monks in the 12th century and completed nearly two centuries later, thanks to the beauty of its terracotta architecture and its fourteenth-century frescoes, the Abbazia di Viboldone is one of the most important medieval complexes in Lombardy. Among its paintings, the most ancient work is the lunette above the arch of access to the apse area, depicting the Virgin Mary and Child enthroned between the archangel Michael, a donor and saints, dating back to 1349.
Inside the complex, fixed audio guides are available in Italian, English, French and Russian.
Here you can find information on the accessibility of the Viboldone Abbey.

Today in the Abbey live the cloistered nuns of the Order of S. Benedetto who follow, like the monks in Chiaravalle, the rule of the "Ora et labora".
The nuns carry out various manual works for which they are well-known: ancient book restoration workshop that has been operating for more than 40 years, a digital printing activity, bookbinding and icon writing activities on wood, wax, parchment. The monastery offers hospitality in its own guesthouse, which has rooms and some meeting rooms for groups and offers, in addition to moments of prayer, study meetings on biblical, historical, spiritual and ecumenical content. To find out more, you can consult the site of the Abbey while to organize a visit you can contact the Amici dell’Abbazia di Viboldone.

Before leaving
The whole route can be consulted, with details and maps, step by step, on the site of the Valle dei Monaci  and among the religious itineraries of the InLombardia website
The map of the "Cammino dei Monaci" (the route of the monks ) can be requested at the Centro Nocetum (via San Dionigi 77) or downloaded in pdf  format from the website of the Valle dei Monaci
From the same link you can also access the free app of the route, for iOs and Android.

San Lorenzo Maggiore and the Abbeys of Chiaravalle Milanese and Viboldone are also stops of the Camin breve

28/09/2018